Blair's friend put in
VLADIMIR PUTIN, the butcher of Chechnya, won the election for president of Russia on Sunday, and swiftly announced that his first foreign visit will be to see Tony Blair in London. Blair was the first leader to meet Putin, then Russian prime minister, last month.
Blair said the two men had a lot in common because both were seeking to "modernise" their countries. Putin's idea of modernisation has been to intensify Russia's murderous attack on Chechnya, the southern province which is seeking independence. He is a former KGB spy, and has the backing of the state machine which has crushed workers and oppressed nationalities in Russia for decades. He also has the support of the corrupt big capitalists, the oligarchs, who came to dominate the bulk of the Russian economy under the previous president, Boris Yeltsin.
The most powerful oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, used his ORT television channel to smear Putin's opponents. He greeted Putin's election, saying, "For me personally, little is going to change. The role of the oligarchs will grow. Big business is going to play a bigger and bigger role in Russia."
Putin's anti-monopoly minister recently whitewashed an investigation into a corrupt takeover of 60 percent of Russia's aluminium industry by Berezovsky and other businessmen. Putin won votes from many sources because he held out the prospect of "strong rule" in a society that has been wrecked by a decade of free market experiments, and state capitalist rule in the years before. He cynically promised ordinary Russians that he would take on the very oligarchs he is entwined with.